Agree to Disagree

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By Ananya S Guha

We can disagree with others, but we can always see the `other` point of view. In my recent articles on websites and newspapers I have tried to say minority rights must be protected by the majority. I did not have one response in websites saying that they agreed, instead I had most responses denigrating my views, denying the past and saying that tolerance should come from them, the minorities.

I agree, I also understand that the majority community is pushed towards aggrieved ends, due to fundamentalism of others and, reactionary forces started growing from the 1980s. We know politicians have contributed to this by encouraging vote banks, but why blame the common person for this?

It is also understandable, that during cricket matches some forces supported Pakistan, and the people felt cheated. Then there was the Godhra riots, Mumbai and of course the horrific 26/11. There are enough reasons for the people of India to feel bitter, let down and cheated and that is why intransigence and recalcitrance are growing.

I would not call it hatred. I don`t believe for once that the common Indian hates his neighbour who professes a different religion. One has to read the letters written by Subhas Chandra Bose to Gandhiji to see respect, love and affection among two persons, even when they radically differed in their ideological view points. The same is true regarding Gandhiji and Tagore.When Richard Attenborough first told Nehru, that he was contemplating making a movie on Gandhiji, Nehru said: `don`t deify him show him warts and all`.

It takes a lot of moral intrepidity to say this about a person you love, look up to, admire and love. Nehru`s section on Gandhiji in his book `The Discovery Of  India` is one of the purple patches and poetic flights of, this memorable book. Louis Fischer in his biography on Gandhiji describes Gandhi and Tagore as complementing each other, and not as people who were in conflict with one another. One has to read the chapter to see Fischer`s unabashed admiration for these two Father Figures of the first half of the twentieth century, who Fischer describes as the two most `outstanding` Indians. I am referring to the second biography of Gandhiji written by Fischer, not the first, on which Attenborough based his film.

Now I come to a personal situation. I have lived in Shillong all my life – fifty five years. I have seen ethnic violence here, militancy in my state and in neighbouring states. I grew up in a peaceful  ambience, Shillong was then the capital of undivided Assam. Only in 1972 Meghalaya was formed. The state formation was peaceful, and not achieved by any form of violence. But however in 1979 ethnic violence broke out and ethnic classes continued till the early 90s, followed by a phase of extremists demanding a separate country. In the meantime Mizoram, Assam, Manipur and Tripura continued to fester.

Shillong was the hub of students and people from the entire North East India. Any rumblings or reverberations were always felt there. A lot of the ire was directed towards the Bengali community and I happened to be of Bengali parentage. My father came to Shillong in 1942 and my father`s family has been settled in Guwahati for over a hundred years. My ancestral homes are Shillong and Guwahati, not Calcutta. However since 1979 insecurity overtook me, perhaps in a way it still continues. In the midst of all this I completed my post graduation and my doctoral degree, all in Shillong. But then I started to introspect.

Something had gone wrong and awry, but what was it? I realized that the Bengali community and the `outsiders `   who  lived in Shillong, never tried to mix with the local people, and lived in ghettos. They also had a supercilious attitude towards them, and looked down upon them. The same thing the Bengalis did in Assam. Believe me, since then it has been a conscious effort on my part towards understanding, assimilation and reconciliation. At the same time I am ashamed of the fact that I cannot speak or fully understand the local language of Meghalaya.

This conscious effort continues to sustain me – I cannot live without my wonderful friends in Meghalaya and North East India. On top of it my uncle who lived in Shillong and Guwahati was an internationally known anthropologist, B.S. Guha. He devoted his time do research on the communities of North East India. I felt lonely, hurt and a little bitter, especially when a friend of mine in the height of the Assam Movement, asked me volte face, when did I come to India!

But as I said I did some self examination and strove consciously to understand the situation with dispassion and compassion… What was the reason or cause for example, of militancy? Every symptom or malaise has a cause. We must understand that!

We can agree to disagree, but the reverse will only cause conflicts.

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